As a reasonably unhinged person, I feel qualified to observe: the nation’s gone batshit. Absolutely hashtag batshit. There are, at last count, about ten Australian adults who retain the gift of rational stillness. The rest of you are painting the cot of your culture in cack.
And, yes, I am talking about that cricketer kerfuffle and yes, I am going to say that nearly every bit of “analysis” committed to record on the matter is about as useful as a fairy-floss dildo. And, yes, you may very well “et tu, Brute?” me for extending the stupidest conversation this nation has hosted since those people at Hillsong first said “what western Sydney’s youth most urgently need is a megachurch with lasers”. Knock yourself out. Call me a hypocrite or a sexist or an ancient ruin who just doesn’t understand what really matters to kids or to cricket fans these days. I don’t care.
I can’t care. There’s no time to selfishly fret for my own reputation when so much else is at such great risk. This is a public health emergency. If you many social and traditional media commentators do not immediately loosen your grip on this week’s clickable turd, none of us will be able to recognise meaning when we see it in the future.
I am mildly sorry that a sports journalist copped a dose of performance flirtation. I am quite sorry that many Australians have come over all Klan-lite and vowed to protect “our women” from the threat of miscegenation. I am not sorry for but confused by journalist Malcom Knox’s decision to deliver a column in the voice of what we can only suppose is Jar Jar Binks. But, chiefly, I am horrified that we have been throwing shit for a week now and are yet to identify its distinctive smell.
Many, many commentators from social and traditional media seem genuinely convinced that this is a story of such texture, it demands another Da Vinci load of decryption each day. This incident has fuelled discussion on workplace sexism, on the role-model status of elite athletes and on the menace of “political correctness” to free speech.
While it is true that these are all fairly interesting questions, it is also true that the brief exchange that prompted them just can’t sustain complex answers. Journalist Has Awkward Time At Press Event is not even a headline, much less a basis for discourse on grand themes. You can’t extract truth from a trifle any more than you can blood from a stone. Or pleasure from a fairy-floss dildo.
I understand that professional and hobbyist commentators mean very well when they weigh in on an improper cricketer, an anti-feminist Facebook troll or a producer of homophobic noodles. Whether they wish to advance or to demolish the era’s habit of hyper-tolerance, such people write in earnest. But, they also very often write about such flimsy stories, they are able to say little of substance at all.
I’m not saying “there are more important things we could be discussing” — although obviously, there are things that merit more urgent discussion than the manners of a batsman. It is more to urge for a little less importance.
Sexism is an important topic. This story, however, says very little about it.
Not so very long ago, stories on celebrity or sports were considered adjuncts to hard news. This is not to say that audiences did not hungrily consume these stories or that media companies ever withheld them. It is, however, to remind you that once we believed that stories like this one were entertaining, not instructive and important.
We once believed that celebrities or dignitaries or cricketers and the people who report on them lived fairly extraordinary lives. We believed it, perhaps, right up until HRH Diana started performing Ordinary Woman fancy dress. By the time the self-crowned “Queen of People’s Hearts” met her terrible end, we were all but convinced that there was little that separated our lives from those of princesses and even less that separated princesses from news.
“They’re just like us” we said, and began to believe it to the point where every other news item reads like a personal Facebook profile. It’s not just this week that we’re having a Meaningful Discussion about a Relatable Matter. It’s every week.
Again, I am sorry for the moment of embarrassment felt by the sports journalist. As a lady media worker, I know how annoying it is when some famous douche-lord takes sexist custody of your mic. I also know that it is far more paralysing to deal with the alienation, sexist or otherwise, that unfolds in most workplaces. For six months and twenty bucks an hour, I once wrote documentation on private network maintenance for a boss that preferred to call me “Love” than to learn my given name. In the moments not spent planning my death, I would fondly remember the good times I’d enjoyed giving sexist interview subjects what-for.
The journalist’s experience must not be mistaken for that of an everywoman. Actually, everywoman has much more shit with which to deal. But, the belief that these very particular stories can function as very general truths has hardened. And we think we have something to learn from Chris Gayle.
I know that our species is inclined to stupid belief. We have given over many centuries to the business of belief in stupid things. This era is no more or less full of fiction than those that gave us a vengeful god, a merciful god or a merciful lender.
But, there is something that gives this era its distinctive smell. We have begun to believe that we can free ourselves from everything in talking about almost nothing at all.